In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion





)     Advisory Opinion   #18



Margaret Nolan as President of the Stamford League of Women Voters, Applicant

)     June 7, 1976








The Commission has agreed to furnish to the applicant its advisory opinion concerning the facts hereinafter set forth.


The first question is whether the Board of Representatives of Stamford can adopt rules that provide for secret voting on approval of appointments to municipal offices, boards, and commissions. Second the applicant asks whether a secret vote on municipal appointments is contrary to P.A. 75-342.


The Board of Representatives of the City and Town of Stamford consists of a president and thirty-nine members-- forty altogether. The statute clearly requires in §6 that it record its votes on issues in the manner described in the recent opinion of the Supreme Court (Pape II v. McKinney, --- Conn.---, 37 Conn. Law Journal No 42, 4/13/76). It can adopt rules that allow for secret ballots on approval of appointments subject to the following explanation, however.


The City could not enact an ordinance or by-law that conflicted with §1‑21, G.S., as amended by P.A. 75-342, §6 (Shelton v. City of Shelton, 111 Conn. 433, 438‑439, 1930). But the Freedom of Information Act does not forbid a secret ballot in the election of officers by a public agent.


This aspect of the question turns on the Commission's interpretation of the term "issue" in the context of the excerpt from §6 of P.A. 75-342:



"The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection ... and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken...."


The Commission considered this problem in Advisory Opinion No. 3, approved December 17, 1975, under the caption, in the Matter of Request for Advisory Opinion, Killingworth Board of Finance " At that time the Commission said of the designation of a chairman of a town board of finance.


"…The ballots of members in choosing a Chairman are not identical with a vote on an issue. For this reason, it is not necessary under Section 6 of the Act to record the individual choices of the respective members of the Board of Finance in choosing the Chairman."


The Commission based its analysis on the fact that the statute authorizing appointment of a chairman and clerk has spoken in terms that were different from the words that described the Board's vote on an appropriation. This was a reasonable expression of legislative intent that the election of officers be distinguished from that public agency's vote on issues. In the absence of any representation by the applicant that the statutes, charter or ordinances to which reference is made describe the casting of a ballot in an election of officers as a vote on an issue, the rationale of Advisory Opinion No. 3 is applicable here, as well.


Because the Commission has relied on the reasoning in its Advisory Opinion No. 3 in arriving at this conclusion, it is appropriate to call to the attention of the public agency and the applicant its comments in Advisory Opinion No. 3 concerning the policy expressed in the practices described by the applicant in that case:


"This Commission notes in passing that the choosing of a Chairman and Clerk or any other officers is not a complicated or sensitive issue that for one instant warrants serious discussion of the need for such secrecy as would be achieved in either an unrecorded vote or a secret ballot, regardless of the distinction on which the Commission arrived at the above stated conclusion.  For this reason, although this advisory opinion will permit the election of officers to proceed without the recorded ballot of the Board members, this Commission recommends that the Board of Finance proceed by open ballot and that it record the members' respective ballots for officers in the minutes of that public agency."


It will suffice to add that the same comments apply to the designation of appointees to various town bodies by the Board of Representatives of the City of Stamford.





                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission


                                                                                            Herbert Brucker, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information

Date  ___________________



                                                                                                         Louis J. Tapogna, Clerk